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Survivor Remembers Flash of Light, Then Floating in Bay With PM-Plane Crash Bjt

March 23, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ She was sitting in window seat 4A, in coach, as USAir Flight 405 rolled down the runway at La Guardia.

Then she remembers the plane tilting sharply left, a flash of light and the water.

″When I finally sat up and tried to orient myself, I was floating in the water because those seats float. I opened my eyes, but there was no plane over me. I was next to it,″ said the 23-year-old from Solon, Ohio, who spoke on condition she be identified only by her first name, Laura.

Laura was taken to Elmhurst Hospital after the jet crashed Sunday during takeoff in a snowstorm. Authorities said at least 26 of the 51 people aboard the flight to Cleveland died.

″I’m so thankful,″ she said. ″I’ll take this any day of the week over what those other people went through. I’m probably in the best shape of anybody who came through here - one of the best. I don’t know how. It’s a miracle. I have a guardian angel on my shoulder or something.″

Laura suffered minor burns on her breathing airway and on her hands. She was expected to be released today.

Laura, who had been visiting her family in Wilton, Conn., said the plane was de-iced once while it sat on the runway. Then, she said, the pilot announced that the 68-seat commuter jet would be de-iced a second time because he wanted a safe flight. The plane then sat there for 25 minutes before takeoff and was not de-iced a third time, she said.

When the plane took off, ″it started lifting up, a few feet off the ground. It tilted to the left quickly and sharply. The pilot tried to straighten it. He was in the process of trying to bring it around and it hit.″

She said she saw what looked like a flash of light and thinks she saw it after the plane hit the ground.

Laura found herself standing in waist-deep water. Another passenger with a broken ankle was still inside the plane. She said she helped him make it to land, where paramedics were waiting.

Before the crash, ″very few people panicked. A few women shrieked and that was it until we hit the ground. There was pandemonium afterward. Everyone was trying to get to shore,″ she said.

″It seemed like a long time for the paramedics to get there, but that’s probably because everybody wanted help at once.″

At the USAir Terminal at La Guardia, Tracy Mitchell, 32, of Bedford, had waited for word on her parents, who were passengers on Flight 405.

″It’s like your whole life is changed,″ she said. ″This doesn’t happen to us. We’re normal people. It’s definitely a nightmare.″

Her loved ones, Virginia and Thoral Mitchell of Cleveland, later were listed among the dead. They were returning home after attending a paddle tennis tournament at a country club in Tarrytown where her father was a contestant, Mitchell said.

She said her parents originally were scheduled to fly out of Westchester County Airport in White Plains. But when they saw that other flights there were being delayed, they switched to La Guardia.

A USAir ticket clerk didn’t want to switch the flights, but Mitchell said her mother, a lawyer, insisted on speaking to a supervisor and got the tickets changed.

Her parents thought they would have a better chance of getting out of La Guardia or at least finding a hotel close to the airport, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said her mother is 55. Her father, a physical therapist, is 60.

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